On Christmas Eve, I was invited by Colleen and Katie to see the limited showing of The Imitation Game. This biographically inspired film (directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore) of the tormented life of English mathematician and cyberneticist Alan Turing served as a poignant epitaph on the passage of this year. Morten Tyldum, a 47 year old Norwegian born director, provided ample space for the audience to enter the crucible of Turing's unconventional childhood which served both as canvas and oil for the artistic isolation of a man who saw what others cannot begin to discern through the fog of consensus-imposed illusions. When Turing died just before his 42nd birthday, the public his work served and the lives his efforts saved knew about as much about him then as we do now: basically nothing. Moore, 33, wrote the screenplay for The Imitation Game in 2011 when it landed on the Black List of the best unproduced scripts in Hollywood. His refrain throughout the film is a gentle admonition long lost on most of humanity.
"Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can image."
Alan Turing's Bombe - the German Enigma deciphering device - was a physical manifestation of his graduate thesis postulate of "effective calculability". In contrast to preceding theoreticians, mathematicians and philosophers, Turing sought to understand functions that could be described through purely mechanical processes rather than seeking to reduce observations to some generalizable set of assumptions. He spent as much time in his graduate work describing conditions in which his approach did not work as he did describing his primitive recursive models of machine deduction. He concludes his thesis with the following observation.
"One would prefer a non-constructive system of logic based on trans-finite induction rather simpler than the system which we have described. In particular, it would seem that it should be possible to eliminate the necessity of stating explicitly the validity of definitions by primitive recursions, since this principle itself can be shown to be valid by transfinite induction. … We have therefore to compromise between simplicity and comprehensiveness."
Unless you cheat. Which is precisely how the Bombe succeeded in deciphering the German Enigma. By introducing a deduced analog variable - weather forecasts and Hitler's desire to have his ego reinforced by the chain of command - the code breakers at Bletchley Park could figure out where and when the Germans were going to attack supply lines and troop movements.
After the war, Turing continued to pursue his Turing Machine, Oracle, and ACE computers relentlessly seeking to demonstrate the power of primitive recursive logic to match the cognitive performance of most humans. The ultimate enigma - can a machine think like a human? - was entrapped in the more profound question: can humans think at all or have we reduced ourselves to linear, recursive, efficient logic devoid of the capacity to handle analog complexity with grace and comprehensiveness? Drawing from the theoretical work of Charles Babbage (the progenitor of conditional logic computers in 1834) and Michael Faraday (the progenitor of electromagnetic devices in 1831), Turing synthesized the best deductive logic to place into electromechanical devices what the physio-electromechanical neural network call the human brain does. And what he demonstrated is that we can, indeed, build devices that out-think us if we choose to reduce thinking to the speed of processing primitive recursive processes. He studied the work of Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson and sought to examine the logic of morphogenetics providing some of the foundation for observations that underpin modern molecular biology, genomics and the like.
It seems fitting that at the end of an entirely predictable and predicted year - both mere confirmations of the sophomoric uselessness of regression in human behaviors and interactions - we could reflect on the two hundred years of logical machine pursuits and at least contemplate emancipation from the mechanization of our hybridized species. In a year in which "fear" was justification for police executions of citizens and the expansion of a camera-on-every-cop surveillance state; "conservatism" was the façade for wealth managers to rob athletes' wealth; "patriotism" was the veneer used to justify the rise of Nazism and xenophobic Fascism from Scandinavia to the halls of Congress; "consumerism" was the panacea for a U.S. economy that still can't figure out what it means to constructively deal with the big issues confronting the global economy; it seems fitting that The Imitation Game is quietly inquiring into the nature of the humanized machine or the mechanized human.
This year's come to an end. I can place on one hand those moments in which I saw the fully humanized human show up this year and have extra fingers. Maybe it's my age - 47 - which is associated with perseverance, integrity, discipline and mysticism that gives me pause. I find myself spending inordinate amounts of time seeking to activate the humanized human I see in others who seem to persist in varying degrees of primitive recursive mechanized states. But, in keeping with my year-end tradition, I thought I'd do the one thing that I've relentlessly held for each year: my expression of gratitude.
And unlike year's past in which I recite a long list of those who have lit the beacons that I've used to navigate the year, I've chosen a diversion for this year. I want you to know about a few people who are, in my estimation, evidencing humanity in human form. These are individuals who, like Turing, Faraday, Thompson and others could contribute in relative anonymity unless they're called out for their contributions. So here goes.
Jack Chopin was introduced to me by my dearest friend and colleague Bob Kendall (who enjoys my deepest gratitude each year). Jack has a degenerative condition which has made activities of daily living exceedingly difficult for him and his wife Diana. Jack has lost what most of us take entirely for granted - the dexterity that comes from fully functioning myoneural junctions. But together with his brother in law Ron, he decided to do something only analogue humans do. He developed and deployed a simple device which allowed him to feed himself. That's interesting. But what makes Jack great is the fact that he, Ron, and Diana didn't just make the E-Z Eat for himself - they set up an enterprise to make these devices for others. Machines solve linear logic problems. Humans have the audacity to realize that the known experience of one is common to unknown others and by addressing the challenge faced by one, the lives of others can be made quantifiably better. Take a look at this video.
Julio De Laffitte - Rio de Janeiro born uber-Australian - saw the government of Queensland and New South Wales entering into conversations about how to survive tough economic times. He participated in events where "leadership" was cowardly discussing ways to shrink and diminish the assets around which growth and development would be possible. He knew that the sclerotic smallness of thought would harm the country he loved and chose as his home. So, he decided to act - not react. He decided to charter a voyage - a great metaphor for a country colonized by those born on the waves - to Antarctica where, on the 26th of January (Australia Day commemorating the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet) about 100 visionaries who care for the future of Australia and the world will spend several days dedicated to manifesting a future that works for everyone. Machines are designed to solve problems based on the algorithm with which they've been coded. Humans have the audacity see the dysfunction of the algorithm and engage the ecosystem with intrepid enterprise.
We The People will benefit greatly from choosing to learn from the Faraday - Babbage - Turing - Chopin - De Laffitte proposition: to see the self-evident nature of the universe we can apprehend and then engage it for the benefit of ALL - neither individual nor collective - but an entirely integrated whole. And for those who thus engage, the passage of the year is an illusion of little consequence. Because this impulse is timeless, dimensionless, persistent, generative and infinitely orthogonal.
Here's to a New Day, again.